December 2015

The holiday season is a time to gather and celebrate with friends and family, but it is also a time where a significant number of people experience health challenges that can take away from the festivities.

With that in mind, I thought I would use this month’s blog post to touch on two health concerns LHIN residents may face this time of year – the Flu and Holiday Stress and Depression – and provide important tips to keep you and your family happy and healthy.

Among ailments that can put a damper on your holiday spirit, or worse lead to an impromptu visit to the Emergency Department, the flu is one of the most common. Each year between 10-20 per cent of the population will contract the flu. 

While most often the flu is just a short-term inconvenience, it can result in serious complications, especially among high-risk groups such as children under five, those 65 and older and those with a respiratory condition or chronic disease. Making sure to get the flu shot is the best defense to protect you and your loved ones from the flu. Because the effects the vaccine can wear off and the viruses that cause the flu change each year, it is essential to get your flu shot annually.

In many cases, symptoms of the flu can mimic those of the common cold. This chart, courtesy of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, can help you determine if you have the flu or a cold:

Symptom

Cold

Flu

Fever

Rare

Often high (102°F – 104°F or 39°C – 40°C). Starts suddenly, lasts 3 to 4 days. Not all people with flu will have a fever.

Headache

Rare

Often, can be severe

Muscle aches

Sometimes, usually mild

Often, can be severe

Feeling tired and weak

Sometimes, usually mild

Often, can be severe, may last 2 to 3 weeks

Fatigue (extreme tiredness)

Unusual

Often, can be severe

Runny/stuffy Nose,

Common

Common

Sneezing

Common

Sometimes

Sore throat

Common

Common

Chest discomfort and/or coughing

Sometimes, mild to moderate

Often, can become severe


Of course, it is possible to contract the flu even after getting the flu shot and taking additional precautions like washing your hands or using sanitizer regularly, so knowing what to do if you get the flu is also important.

Stay home and get plenty of rest and fluids if:
  • You contract the flu or develop flu symptoms
Arrange to visit your doctor or a walk-in-clinic if:
  • You don’t begin feeling better after 3-4 days
  • Your symptoms get worse
  • You are in a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms
Seek immediate medical attention if:
  • You experience shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, low blood pressure, or sudden dizziness or confusion
  • You have a high fever lasting more than 3 days
  • You expel coloured mucus or blood when you cough
  • You have severe or persistent vomiting or are unable to hold down fluids
  • Your skin colour becomes grey or bluish
* Sources: Government of Ontario and Public Health Agency of Canada

If you have doubts about whether to seek medical care, or need advice on how to treat flu symptoms, call Telehealth Ontario at 1 866-797-0000 for confidential, 24-hour access to registered nurses trained to help individuals decide about appropriate options for care.


While the holidays are time most of us look forward to with anticipation, for others it can also be a time of tremendous stress. The pressures of shopping, decorating, travel, entertaining and financial costs can easily overwhelming the best of us and may trigger feelings of anxiety or depression, that exceed the so called ‘holiday blues.’ For those who have lost a loved one or who are already feeling sad, lonely or isolated, the holidays can be an especially difficult time of year.

When stress begins to affect you on a physical or emotional level, it can be hard to stop and take a step back. Taking action to prevent stress and depression in the first place is a solid strategy, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past. My colleagues at the Canadian Mental Health Association offer the following holiday survival tips: 
  • Plan ahead – Schedule specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities so you have a plan for when each activity will be Simple steps like making a shopping list, planning your menus and lining up help for party prep and cleanup can also help prevent last-minute scrambling.
  • Be realistic – The holidays don't have to be perfect or follow the same pattern each year. As families change and grow, traditions often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if adult children can't come to your house, visit them or find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  • Stick to a budget – Before going shopping for food and gifts, establish how much you can afford to spend, then stick to your budget. Unpaid bills or lingering credit card debt, are one of the greatest sources of post-holiday stress.
  • Don't abandon healthy habits – Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence, whether it be food or alcohol, can contribute to feelings of depression and guilt. Remember to incorporate physical activity into each day and be sure to get enough sleep.
  • Reach out – If you have few family or friends, reach out to neighbors or seek out community, religious or other social events to participate in. If you are planning on attending family or social gatherings, invite along someone you know would otherwise be spending time alone.
  • Acknowledge your feelings – With all the messages of family togetherness and joy, the emptiness left by the passing of a loved one can be a harsh contrast to what society expects us to feel. If someone close to you has recently died, recognize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings.
  • Make some time for yourself – Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to get through a stress full day. Taking a walk, snuggling up with a family pet, getting a message or reading a book can all help to clear your mind and relieve stress.
  • Get help if you need it – Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling sad or anxious, unable to sleep, feeling irritable, hopeless or unable to cope. If these feelings persist, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

On behalf of the HNHB LHIN, I hope you enjoy a safe and happy holidays!

To learn more about the flu signs and symptoms, or for information or where to get a flu shot, visit: www.ontario.ca/flu.

For a list of Mental Health Crisis Lines, CLICK HERE.

For information about other health service providers, including walk-in clinics and urgent care centres, offering non-emergency services during the holidays, CLICK HERE.


If you or your organization would like to be featured in a future blog or share a patient story in one of our Voices in the Community videos you can reach us through our office, or if you’re on social media via our Twitter handle -@HNHB_LHINgage. Your feedback and questions are always welcome.